POSTCARD FROM CHILE
A CONVERSATION WITH A STRANGER INTRODUCES US TO A FAMOUS CHILEAN FOLK SINGER, PABLO ROSETTI.
JANUARY 4, 2014
'That's the ideal meeting... once upon a time, only once,
unexpectedly, then never again.'
- Helen Oyeyemi -
We had arrived in the Chilean capital of Santiago a few days ahead of joining a Peregrine tour of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. On this Saturday, January 4, 2014, we had taken a day tour to the port city of Valparaiso and had spent a delightful couple of hours exploring the colourful streets that cling to the city's mountainous backdrop. As we return to the city, we opt to finish the tour at Parque Arauco, a beautiful shopping centre in suburban Santiago. We find our way to the basement of the mall to find a Bureau de Change, where we engage in a lively conversation with Chilean folk singer, Pablo Rosetti.
In 1972, Sonia Paz Soto-Aguilar Orellana and Pablo Rosetti, both students at Universidad de Chile, recorded two hit songs: "Que Maravilla" ("How Marvelous") and "Y te dire que hay amor" ("I tell you, Love is here").
Viña del Mar And Valparaiso Day Trip from Santiago (Tour operator is Turistik) - $75.00 pp
Parque Arauco Shopping Centre, Avenida Presidente Kennedy 5413 Las Condes, Santiago 8320000 Chile
Accommodation: Mecure Hotel, Avda Lib Bernardo O'Higgins, 632 Santiago Centro, 8330066, Santiago, Chile.
Tour: Peregrine Chile, Argentina, Brazil from 5/1/2014-18/1/2014.
It's been a long day! We've just returned from the port city of Valparaiso, a ninety-minute journey from Santiago. Parque Arauco is a transport hub for tourist buses, and instead of changing to the bus that would take us back to our hotel, we opt to stay at the shopping centre for a while. This mall, like most large Westfield or similar shopping centres across the world, combines retail with entertainment and the beautifully landscaped outdoor area includes open-air restaurants and bars, which are coming alive in the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon.
We don't have a lot of Chilean pesos, so we enter the shopping centre and search for a Cambio, a money changer. As expected, this is located with other centre services in the basement area, an uninspiring and dowdy section of the mall. As we descend the escalator, the beige-coloured walls seem to close in as the ceilings are little shorter and the space more cramped. Ahead is an orderly line of people and we quickly realise that this queue will eventually lead us to the money-changer. We settle for a lengthy wait and as I scroll through the photos on my camera, I get a peculiar feeling that someone is watching us. I glance up and catch the eye of the man standing directly ahead of us in the queue. Tall, fairly good-looking, with an animated but friendly face, and a head full of greying curls, he has an acoustic guitar strapped to his back. We seem to have hit a snag as the queue hasn't advanced towards the tiny outlet for several minutes, and I wonder out loud what could be holding us up.
The gentleman in front of us answers me by making a scathing comment about the competency of those behind the counter, which is uncomfortable for us as are just visiting the country. I notice that he, too, appears to be a little impatient, as he hops from one foot to the other, sighing out loud. We are surprised as he continues the conversation in perfect English, almost without an accent. After asking us about ourselves and where we live, he proceeds to tell us about himself.
Born on November 22, 1952, and the son of a Chilean diplomat, he had spent fifteen years of his childhood in France. Attending one of Paris' most exclusive schools alongside Isabella Rossellini, he tells us he is fluent in five languages, other than his native Spanish tongue.
As we pass a security guard and creep up towards the counter, I feel almost sorry that this conversation will be short lived. I could talk to this bloke for a week, he's so interesting.
He talks about his current life in Honduras, where he is a street busker and friend of President Zelaya. He describes the presidential palace of Honduras, where he has been invited to sing on a number of occasions.
The conversation turns to his music and he asks whether we've ever heard of Billboard Charts. In the 1970s, we followed the Billboard Charts from USA, Britain, and Australia almost religiously, and this bloke is asking had we ever heard of them?
I nod in agreement. Yes, we know of Billboard.
By now, there is only one more person in front of us and our companion is in full flight talking about how he was half of a famous folk duo, who had a hit on the Chilean Billboard Charts for sixteen weeks in 1972. He asks for a piece of paper and I pass him my notebook opened at a clean page. I'm fully of the belief that he is going to provide me with an autograph. I could not be more wrong!
The air inside the tiny Cambio is stifling as the late afternoon crowds are bearing down upon us. The thick atmosphere and the late afternoon sweaty bodies are not pleasant as the air-conditioning inside the building seems to lose its effectiveness, but we barely notice the discomfort of our surroundings as our companion is now feverishly talking about his musical career here in Chile and in other parts of the world.
Mopping his brow with a large handkerchief he takes the proffered ballpoint pen and turns the book one quarter turn and on the blank page on the left side, writes four words;
He is called to the counter and with a wave and one last word,
'Google,' he turns his back to us and engages with the cashier.
A minute later, we are called to the other cashier and our concentration is averted as we carry out our currency exchange.
By the time we have finished, the man has disappeared. We now have a name for this gentleman, Pablo, who has provided us with an animated and incredible insight into his life; all within a short ten-minute period.
We step out of the tiny storefront and into the mall, the air-conditioning cooling us almost instantly.
As we emerge into the outdoor area, we find a cafe, order coffee, and connect to the local WIFI, where we quickly search for Pachi y Pablo. The short Wikipedia description tells the same story we've heard from our queue-mate, and provides his last name, Rosetti. But we have been blessed with a personal insight into his life as a diplomat's son and later as a musician - just for a brief moment in time.
Some of our most endearing memories of our travels derive from random meetings with people; ordinary people who do extraordinary things and ordinary people who want to share a little insight into their lives with strangers or visitors to their country. It helps that we probably look like friendly people and we are always eager and willing to listen and to enjoy the experiences of others.
I wish I could speak Spanish fluently as our experiences are oftentimes hampered by language. Speaking to these beautiful local people provides a tiny view into their culture; it provides the opportunity to ask questions about a place and, in return, we are often given 'local' hints on restaurants, sights to see, and other things of interest that may be slightly off the beaten track.
Later, I do another search on Pablo Rosetti and find some YouTube videos and photos. This is definitely the man we met today.
We don't expect to see Pablo Rosetti again, and indeed we may never hear his name mentioned again, but we will never forget the pleasure we had speaking to a stranger whilst standing in a queue in a country so vastly different from our own.
FOOTNOTE: Pablo Rosetti died on May 26, 2019 in Santiago in Chile at the age of 67.
(photographs of Pablo Rosetti have been downloaded from the internet)